The Sciences

Economics is not a Boys Sport

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumMar 31, 2011 9:09 PM


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In order to tackle conservation, energy, funding, and many more critical issues we discuss, economics will be a large part of the solutions. Yet when we hear economists in the media, I often wonder why women aren't generally quoted and interviewed. Further, where are the women who blog about it? Answer: They simply don't exist. UCLA economist Matthew Kahn notes:

There are 52 women who rank in the top 1000 [members of the economics profession] and 0 of them blog. Contrast that with the men. Consider the top 100 men. In this elite subset; at least 8 of them blog. Consider the men ranked between 101 and 200. At least, six of them blog. So, this isn't very scientific but we see a 7% participation rate for excellent male economists and a 0% participation rate for excellent women. This differential looks statistically significant to me.

Kahn is curious about the reasons why and suggests that men may have more leisure time and "nerdy guys spend more time reading and writing blog posts." Perhaps that's part of it, but in recent years, the number of women science bloggers has exploded, despite family, teaching, and other obligations. We may not be as well represented when you account for all science blogs (or recognized as often), but our numbers are growing. Women tend to use these forums as tools to share ideas, collaborate, and facilitate discussions beyond the academic bubble where many of us reside. In fact, at ScienceOnline annual meetings, we outnumber our male colleagues. In other words, there must be more to the gender disparity in economics than time and nerdiness. (Although I am, admittedly, a nerd). Another blogger theorized that women stay away from economics blogs because of their combative style, yet science blogs are not always a particularly friendly place either. (Any regular reader of The Intersection understands what I mean). The pissing contests that emerge do not seem to keep women from blogging. Further, even though comment threads tend to be male dominated, I receive many emails from women and kids, so it's clear that they're reading too. What's really going on? Here's my suspicion: Rather than gender differences in attitudes, female economists are simply still not part of the economics blogging culture... yet. It's not an activity that they consider because there are no predecessors already engaged. In other words, encouraging women to participate is more about changing social mores and cultural norms of what's acceptable and rewarded within the economics profession. That can't happen until women are better represented online. A bit of a chicken and egg problem, but I'm confident economics will catch up to science in this regard. Why does this matter? Because pioneering women will bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. And Kahn is correct that it will also create more opportunities for them to get recognized in their profession. I applaud Kahn for highlighting the gender divide and challenge him and his colleagues to encourage more women to get engaged. If they have reservations, tell them to email me.

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